Staff Predictions for the 2016 NBA Playoffs
Opinions are like belly buttons; everybody has one.
There's no denying the truth to that quote as it is (which some credit to Shaquille O'Neal, coincidentally). However, I'd like to add to it by saying that everybody has one and not a lot of people really know what to do with it.
Some people tend to give their opinions when it would be better kept to themselves while others don't give their unique and respectable stance because they're too afraid of what the others -- the majority -- will say.
That goes for many things in life, but in the world of sports, there is an abundance of people who know exactly what to do with their belly buttons -- I mean, opinions. And that's just one of many reasons why sports are so great.
With all the hypothetical talk about whether or not the Warriors could beat the '95-96 Bulls, not to mention the discussions surrounding the impending playoff matchups, opinions have been flying around the Twitter-sphere lately.
Hey! What about us? It's our turn to put our opinions out there to be heard!
But, instead of giving you each and every one of our personal opinions, we've decided to put them together in order to see, as a team of writers, what trends form among us and what our numbers say about those trends.
And here they are...
Lowest Seed to Advance Past Round 1
This isn't a question you usually see tossed around the NBA Playoff conversation; rather it's usually reserved for those pesky 10 seeds or Cinderella candidates in the NCAA tournament. But it did its job and provided us with a pretty good idea of what teams we think should be on upset alert come Saturday or Sunday.
In the East, the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics both received six of the 15 writers' votes to advance past the first round. Despite the feel of a "pretty chalky year" (to quote our very own Sam Hauss), it seems like these two teams are a common thread among the team.
In fact, Derek Lynch takes it a step further boldly predicting that the Hornets will ride Kemba Walker and a deep bench all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Our numbers say, "Bold statement, sir," because the Hornets, at 21.42% to make the conference finals, have the fifth-best odds of doing so among the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams.
On the bright side, both the Hornets (46%) and Celtics (43.19%) possess reasonable odds of getting out of their respective first round matchups with the Heat and Hawks, so our predictions are right in line with our algorithm.
The same cannot be said for the Detroit Pistons (30.22%) and Indiana Pacers (34.03%), who each received one vote to advance to the second round. Although Patrick Smith made his way out onto a limb to say that the Pistons will upset the Cavaliers and the Celtics on their way to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, which we give a minute 12.15% probability of occurring.
As for the other side of the bracket, the Blazers were the only Western Conference team to receive a vote (three, to be exact). Connor Pelton foresees Portland getting out to a quick 2-0 start on the Clippers before advancing to the second round. Russ Peddle and Nick Hjeltness are also on board with the Portland upset.
The numbers disagree with the sentiment, as our numbers give the Blazers just a 20.92% chance of taking down the Clippers in Round 1.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
Our squad is pretty much in agreement when it comes to the Eastern Conference: Cavaliers over the Raptors for the Eastern Conference belt. While the Raptors received the majority of (8 of 15) runner-up votes, 12 of 15 writers like the Cavs to take the crown in the East and return to the NBA Finals.
According to our numbers, Toronto and Cleveland have chances of 39.56% and 44.66% to reach the Eastern Conference title game. No other team has more than a 25.44% chance of doing so. As for LeBron James and company (27.56%), they are the only Eastern Conference team with more than 25% odds to reach the Finals. Toronto sits close by at 21.45%.
But who else is a threat in the East?
According to our writers, the Heat are the next best threat to make a run to the Finals. They received two runner-up votes and one Eastern Conference Championship vote from Mike Hurley, who has the Heat getting wins over the Pacers and Hawks en route to an improbable conference title. How improbable? The Heat's odds of reaching the Finals stands at an unconvincing 11.37%. But, if Josh Levinson's prophecy of an Iso Joe Johnson game-winner comes true, who knows what could happen?
Meanwhile, the other teams to receive runner-up votes alone were the Hawks with two, and the Hornets, Pistons and Cavaliers with one apiece. In case you're wondering, the Hawks, Hornets and Pistons have a combined probability of 25.79% of winning the East Conference title tilt.
We're betting on the Cavs and Raptors in the East.
Western Conference Playoffs
In the West, our writers see three serious contenders in comparison to the two main powerhouses in the East. They are the Thunder, Spurs and Warriors -- the only Western Conference teams to receive either runner-up or conference champion votes.
The most likely outcome here is the Warriors and Spurs with the Warriors emerging victorious to return to their second straight NBA Finals. The Warriors received a total of 11 conference champion votes to the Spurs' three and the Thunders' one (the lone wolf being Alex McDonald). It's fitting then that if the Warriors don't win the game, we believe they'll, at the very least, be in it. Their four runner-up votes are second to the Spurs' nine and directly correlate with the four non-Warrior conference champion votes.
Generally, we're in line with what the numbers expect. The Warriors (61.99%), Spurs (66.92%) and Thunder (26.95%) possess three of the four highest probabilities of reaching the conference finals while the three rate second, first and fourth among Western Conference foes, respectively. The obvious difference between us and the numbers is that the Spurs are given the edge over the Warriors. They even have a 4.25 percentage point edge over Golden State in terms of reaching the Finals.
Outside of this three-team combination, the only other team of note among our team of writers is the Los Angeles Clippers. We don't like their chances of reaching the Western Conference title bout, and we don't expect them to make a run to the championship series, but one common denominator is their ability to take the Warriors to a full seven games in the second round.
Three writers -- consisting of Josh Levinson, Jordan Sharp and yours truly -- are anticipating Los Angeles to push Golden State to the limit before running out of games at Oracle.
Even at that, are we underselling the Clippers? Maybe so.
Some expect the Clippers to be upset in the first round, and others still have them pegged for a sweep or something of the sort at the hand of the Warriors in the conference semifinals.
The math is much higher on the Clippers. It says that the Clippers have nearly an 80% chance of getting out of the first round and a 12% chance of going to the Finals. And their 7.81% probability of winning it all is over 0.5% higher than that of the Thunder, who a majority of writers and analysts are much higher on. So, whether we're giving the Thunder too much credit or not giving the Clippers enough, it's something to ponder.
Hot take alert!
As a team, we expect the Warriors to repeat as NBA champions, no matter the opponent. Stephen Curry and crew received 10 of the 15 championship votes; five predicting a win in five games and five predicting the championship to be wrapped up in six. It's notable that not a single writer anticipates any Eastern Conference champ to take the Dubs to seven. In fact, two of our guys predict Golden State dominance throughout the playoffs.
One projects the Warriors to suffer just two losses in the entire playoffs -- one coming in the Finals -- while the other, Dale Redman, expects the Warriors to drop one to Houston in Round 1 but bounce back to win 10 straight before losing to San Antonio in Game 3 of the Western Conference title game before advancing to the Finals where they win in six.
Jay Kim has a very different view from the previous writers. It's unpopular, no doubt, but Jay expects the Warriors to lose a total of nine games and fall to the Spurs in the battle of the West. Jay joins me as the only two to take the Spurs in six. Jordan Sharp has the Spurs in seven.
The only other two votes are for the Thunder in seven and the Cavaliers in seven games. In case you're wondering who the King James truther is that's Josh Levinson, who expects LeBron to take the Finals MVP should his prediction come true.
The Warriors make 10 of the MVP votes -- one awfully...unexpected vote for Anderson Varejao (Sorry, Connor), another for Klay Thompson, one for Draymond Green and seven for the reigning and soon-to-be two-time MVP, Steph Curry.
To summarize, as a team, we have the Warriors (in five or six) over the Cavaliers with Chef Curry adding his first NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award to his trophy case.
The numbers, on the other hand, tell a slightly different story. They predict a Spurs championship over the Cavaliers, which would likely earn Leonard -- if not Aldridge -- a Finals MVP.
For a final prediction, I think I speak for our entire NBA team when I say that the 2016 NBA Playoffs are going to be awesome. And who knows? With how things are going this year, it could be historical.